Monday night´s fixture against Blackburn Rovers was a must-win game for both teams. City are trying to qualify for the Champions League while Rovers trying to make sure there will be top-flight football at Ewood Park next season.
Roberto Mancini had insisted that his players concentrate on the final six Premier League games and forget about next month´s FA Cup Final with Stoke City. With that in mind, he named the same team that was victorious in last week´s semi-final with Manchester United, with hamstring victims Carlos Tevez and Micah Richards still on the sidelines.
The Blues have struggled away from home of late and have not recorded a league win on their travels in 2011. Their last victory was a 3-1 win at Newcastle United on Boxing Day, yet the first 20 minutes was as good an opening spell as Mancini´s men have produced away from Eastlands this season. Even so, once Blackburn had weathered the early storm there seemed to be a general lack of ideas as to how to break down a defence that had conceded just 14 goals at home this season – the sixth meanest in the division on their home pitch.
However, Edin Dzeko´s introduction as a second-half substitute for Adam Johnson paid immediate dividends. The Bosnian claimed his first league goal for the Citizens with virtually his first touch to earn his team the points. If his 75th minute strike helps City to the coveted fourth place in the table, he will finally have started to pay off a chunk of the £27m fee paid to Wolfsburg for his services in the January transfer window. Nigel de Jong, who has sometimes received criticism for a perceived negativity in central midfield, is also starting to show why the role he has in the side – protecting the back four and winning the ball back – is such a valuable one, and he picked up another deserved Man of the Match award.
Manager Mancini was understandably delighted with the result. “I thought we were fantastic in the first half,” said the Italian, “but all games at this stage of the season are hard and sometimes you need to win like this. I am also very happy for Edin Dzeko for scoring his first goal. He is a good man and a good player.”
The result means the gap to Tottenham Hotspur in fifth has increased to four points, with third-placed Arsenal now in City´s sights as the Gunners stand five points clear but have played a game more. With the enormous expectations on the players´ shoulders at the start of this season, a forthcoming FA Cup Final appearance, and a possible first-ever appearance in the Champions League, will have given them confidence for the run-in and have City fans everywhere licking their lips in anticipation like never before.